Author Archives: Jennifer Mitchell, CAE

BREAKING: Schools receive updated TEA guidance on closures, reflecting new advice from attorney general

Earlier today, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton issued a press release sharing a letter he penned to Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien about local authorities’ power (or lack thereof) to restrict schools from reopening for on-campus instruction. Though non-binding, Paxton’s letter cautions that local health authorities cannot issue closure orders or other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic that would conflict with either state law or Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders already in effect. Paxton then argues that orders recently issued by some local health authorities conflict with both.

The AG’s letter notes that a handful of cities and counties — mostly located in urban areas more acutely affected by rising numbers of COVID-19 infections — have recently issued orders to restrict area schools from opening their doors prior to a particular date. Paxton counters with advice that such “blanket quarantine orders” issued as a prophylactic measure are prohibited. Only actual infection on the campus, according to the AG’s reasoning, would warrant the issuance of a local order to close the school to on-campus instruction. “To the extent a local health authority seeks to employ section 81.085 to order closure of a school, the authority would need to demonstrate reasonable cause to believe the school, or persons within the school, are actually contaminated by or infected with a communicable disease,” writes Paxton in the letter.

On the heels of the AG’s letter, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated its “SY 20-21 Public Health Planning Guidance” document that was issued July 17, 2020, with a newer version today, along with an “Attendance and Enrollment FAQ” document that is similarly revised.

In the latest guidance, TEA explains that because of the AG’s interpretation, “a blanket order closing schools does not constitute a legally issued closure order for purposes of funding solely remote instruction.” This differs from prior TEA guidance which assured schools they would continue to receive funding if they were forced to close by a local order. Now those closure orders would have to meet the additional hurdles outlined by AG Paxton, including a vague requirement of being based on “reasonable cause to believe the school, or persons within the school, are actually contaminated by or infected with a communicable disease.” Notwithstanding the AG’s letter, TEA also clarifies in the newest documents out today that schools may still be funded while operating remotely if they are doing so under other permissible conditions, such as during the allowed four-week transition period that was announced in the earlier TEA guidance.

Many Texas public schools have already announced plans to operate virtually for the first few weeks of their school year while preparing for a return to on-campus instruction. School districts may also request a one-time extension of the state-sanctioned four-week transition period if voted upon by their board of trustees. It is believed that most of the existing local health orders restricting a return to campus would overlap with the four-to-eight-week transition period already authorized by TEA, making it unlikely that a school district would have to risk a loss of funding because of a delay in returning to campus at the beginning of the school year. Once the transition period expires, however, school districts may find themselves in a precarious position if their local health officials’ recommendations conflict with state orders in effect at the time. TEA also points out that school districts have their power to set their own calendars, which some may find a need to revise.

TEA’s new resources shared today also include a “Guidebook for Public Health Operations,” which includes protocols schools may use in responding to an lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 and recommendations for collaborating with local health officials to discuss and conduct planning exercises ahead of the new school year:

“School systems, local health departments and local health authorities should make contact prior to the start of school and conduct a tabletop exercise (detailed at the end of this document) to determine how they will work together. …  As part of the exercise, these parties will determine how to best work together in the instance of a positive case.”

While ATPE is pleased to see the suggestions for collaborative planning to respond to the COVID-19 infections within a local school community that are likely to occur in the near future, it would have been more helpful for schools to have received this guidance from the state earlier in the summer rather than within days or weeks of starting the new school year. The new TEA guidebook also adds a somewhat perfunctory statement that local “planning efforts should also engage parents and teachers,” which ATPE has urged for months now in our recommendations to local and state officials.

We are aware that many school district leaders are grappling with a maze of differing and even contradictory orders and advice on how to begin the new school year. This is especially true for districts located within the boundaries of multiple city or county jurisdictions that may not agree on how to respond to the pandemic. As noted in a statement issued today, ATPE urges the state to provide clearer direction and leadership to help schools decipher these orders and guidelines.

“ATPE recognizes that COVID-19 has created fluid situations that demand frequent updates and revisions to plans. However, with multiple directives and guidance being issued by different branches and levels of government, it is no surprise that school leaders and educators are frustrated. The state should do everything in its power to protect the lives of Texans and support a safe and productive learning environment, not create needless confusion.”

As additional developments occur and guidance from government officials continues to change, ATPE encourages educators to visit our COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page for answers to frequently asked questions, which we will continue to update.

ATPE reacts to preview of TEA’s health guidance for next school year

ATPE issued a statement this afternoon on a draft document that was widely circulated today regarding state officials’ plans for the next school year. The draft of the “SY 20-21 Public Health Guidance” document from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) includes recommendations for school districts as they plan to prevent and respond to COVID-19 in their communities.

The proposed guidance includes certain notice requirements for school districts, including posting a  summary of the district’s plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 before the start of school. It would also require schools to instruct students on the first day of school about hygiene practices to reduce the spread. Most of the recommendations in the draft document, however, are merely suggestions and not mandates. For example, the draft advises that having students, staff, or visitors wear masks on campus and placing student desks six feet apart are things a district should “consider.”

As noted by the Texas Tribune today, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath told school superintendents this afternoon that his agency was not yet ready to issue final health and safety guidance today. Educators, school district leaders, and parents have been anxiously awaiting additional direction from TEA after the governor and commissioner made comments last week about plans for students and staff to return to school.

Saying last Thursday, “It will be safe,” regarding schools’ resuming in-person instruction this fall, Commissioner Morath promised additional guidance early this week on the plans for instruction during the 2020-21 school year, as well as “flexibility” for families with health concerns. The draft document circulated today includes assurances that parents will have options for virtual instruction of their children if they choose not to attend classes on campus. The draft does not include any similar guidance on flexibility for staff with health concerns related to COVID-19, instead stating, “Employees of school systems, like employees of any organization, must continue to meet the work expectations set by their employers, subject to any applicable employment contract terms.”

A recent increase in reported cases of COVID-19 infection is one of the reasons state officials are said to be revising the guidance and not ready to release it today. The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Texas hit a new record high on this Tuesday, adding to the difficulty of decision-makers at the local and state level to implement appropriate precautions. As we await additional information from TEA or the governor that we will promptly share here on Teach the Vote, below is a copy of ATPE’s June 23 public statement about the TEA draft guidance:


ATPE Statement on Texas Education Agency’s Public Health Guidelines
State’s largest educator association: TEA’s draft guidance shows need for more work to provide the support schools need

Earlier today, ATPE reviewed a draft of what Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and TEA are calling the “Strong Start” plan—a framework for school districts to follow as they implement COVID-19 safety protocols to bring students and faculty back to school. The draft comes after the governor’s announcement last week that students and teachers would be back in classrooms this fall.

While the Commissioner has pledged to release the final guidance in the coming days, it’s clear from this draft that much is being left up to individual school districts to determine what works best for their local communities, with few state-level requirements beyond notice to parents and students of a district-adopted plan and protocol following a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19.

Considering this, ATPE strongly urges the state to require stronger actions to ensure the safety of school employees and Texas students. ATPE also asks school districts to listen to their employees and the recommendations of medical experts regarding the impact of the pandemic in their area as they implement their back-to-school safety protocols. 

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes

“Nothing in this guidance so far offers additional peace of mind for teachers, school district leaders, or parents,” said Shannon Holmes, ATPE Executive Director.  “Elected school boards and superintendents now face a difficult balancing act between preventing COVID-19 outbreaks and ensuring children are in the most productive learning environment possible—a physical classroom with an in-person teacher. They deserve to have support and actionable guidance from the state of Texas.”

According to a just-concluded survey of ATPE’s 2020 membership, more than 65% of ATPE members said their students were less engaged in learning when required to attend school virtually. This fact must be balanced with health and safety concerns, which are top-of-mind to a large portion of Texas educators, according to another recent ATPE survey, this one open to all Texas educators.

The COVID-19 Educator Impact Survey, which focused on educators’ top concerns related to returning to campus during the pandemic, showed that more than 65% of the educators surveyed named the health and safety of students as a top concern. Sixty percent of respondents listed their personal health and safety, and more than 45% reported concern about student learning gaps and learning loss.

ATPE is committed to ensuring the success of Texas educators and public schools, especially during these uncertain times. In early March, ATPE launched a COVID-19 resource and FAQ page at www.atpe.org/coronavirus. The webpage, one of the first COVID-19 resource webpages directed specifically toward Texas educators, lists government resources, breaking news, self-care resources and tips, and a comprehensive FAQ with fact-checked answers to common questions on everything from district requirements, health and employment, and working with students.

In addition, ATPE staff have been engaged in daily communications with ATPE members, elected officials, agency staff, school district leaders, and other stakeholder groups to find solutions to the many challenges created by COVID-19. As an association representing approximately 100,000 educators across Texas, ATPE welcomes any opportunity to share input from our research with TEA as officials finalize their guidance.

“Given the current trends related to COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, it is impossible to predict the public health situation in August 2020,” said Holmes. “What we at ATPE can guarantee is that we will be with our members each step of the way, helping individual members navigate concerns related to policy decisions in their districts and championing the tremendous contributions of educators as essential workers in this crisis.”


Primary Election Day 2020 is here. Go vote!

Today is “Super Tuesday,” the date of the 2020 primary election in Texas.

Polls are open until 7 p.m. tonight, and ATPE encourages all registered voters to get out and vote today!

Quick voting tips and reminders:

  • Know where to go vote today. Some counties offer countywide voting, which allows you to select from multiple locations. Other counties require you to vote in your precinct’s assigned polling location. Find out where you can vote on Election Day by entering your information here.
  • Texas has open primaries, meaning that you can choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic party primary election today. Your choice of a primary will not affect your ability to vote for any candidate on the ballot, regardless of party affiliation, in the November general election.
  • Use Vote411.org to print out a customized ballot to take with you to the polls. (You can’t use your cell phone inside the voting booth!)
  • Learn what to expect at your polling place today. Click here for ATPE’s tips on various balloting systems in use around Texas and more.
  • Don’t forget about the photo ID requirements for voting. Also, check out VoteTexas.gov for additional voting tips.
  • View profiles of the candidates running for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote. Learn where they stand on education issues based on their voting records, responses to our candidate survey, and other information.
  • Preview the non-binding ballot propositions that the state Republican and Democratic parties are asking their voters to weigh in on during this election. Learn more in this Teach the Vote blog post.

ATPE’s lobby team will be reporting on the Texas election results tomorrow on our blog. In the meantime, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our individual lobbyists on Twitter for updates.

Another poll shows strong support for public education

On the heels of a voter survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune regarding state funding for public education (republished on Teach the Vote here), the Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation has also released a new statewide poll this week about Texans’ attitudes toward public education. Both polls show support for public schools and educators with a desire for increased funding of public education.

The RYHT Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers, and 70 percent believe that teacher pay is too low. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the Texans responding were concerned that our state’s standardized tests may not effectively measure student learning. Half the respondents said they were not confident that Texas’s “A through F” accountability grading system accurately represents school quality. The poll also asked respondents about the top challenges they believe teachers are facing, the biggest problems affecting the public schools in their communities, and what their feelings are about wraparound supports for students, such as mental health services.

In a press release from RYHT, Foundation President Shari Albright said, “We’re pleased to be the first organization in the country to commit to an annual statewide poll about public education issues.” Albright added, “We thought it important to provide this service to Texans on an annual basis, both to understand the challenges and help find ways to improve our public schools.”

Read complete results and additional information about the new RYHT Foundation poll here.

Primary Colors: Why March 3 Matters (Part I)

In Texas, primary election results – not the November general election – often determine who will represent you in Austin. ATPE explains why in Part I of this “Primary Colors” blog feature for Teach the Vote.

We’ve written on our blog about how Texas legislative districts are often gerrymandered. The district map boundaries are drawn in such a way to favor a particular political party, making it easier for a candidate from that party to win election or re-election in that district. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for certain contested races to feature candidates who are all affiliated with the same political party. If the district is so heavily weighted toward one party, candidates from the other major party (not to mention independent and third-party candidates) may not even file for a place on the ballot. When this happens, the primary election becomes the final determinant of who will win that seat, making the November general election irrelevant for that particular race.

We’re certainly not suggesting that voting in the November general election is a waste of your time. (On the contrary, there are still scores of other races you should vote on in November!) ATPE is reminding our readers about this to illustrate just how important it is to be a primary election voter.

In 2020, there are several races in which all the candidates hail from the same political party. In these districts, the winner of the March 3 primary election wins the whole kit and caboodle, facing no opposition in November. If you happen to live in one of these Texas House districts, make sure you learn about the candidates who are running in either the Republican or Democratic primary election, because one of these individuals will quickly become your new state representative in 2021:

  • House District 9:
    Incumbent Rep. Chris Paddie is seeking a fifth term in the House and being challenged by Mark Williams in the Republican primary. No other candidates filed to run for this East Texas seat, so the Republican primary election will determine the final outcome.
  • House District 30:
    In Victoria, Rep. Geanie Morrison faces a challenge from Army veteran Vanessa Hicks-Callaway in the Republican primary. Morrison has held the seat since 1998.
  • House District 36:
    Incumbent Rep. Sergio Munoz is being challenged by Abraham Padron in the Democratic primary for this Edinburg seat. It’s a familiar match-up between these two; Padron unsuccessfully challenged Munoz in the 2016 and 2018 primaries.
  • House District 37:
    In 2018, Alex Dominguez prevailed in a winner-take-all primary election runoff in which he ousted longtime state representative René Oliveira for this Brownsville seat. Now the first-term incumbent Dominguez is preparing for yet another winner-take-all primary, facing a challenge from attorney Amber Medina in the Democratic primary.
  • House District 59:
    Incumbent Rep. J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville faces two challengers from within his own party: Republican candidates Shelby Slawson and Cody Johnson, both from Stephenville. There is no one else running in November, but with three candidates on the ballot in this closely watched primary battle, a runoff might become necessary to determine the final winner.
  • House District 72:
    San Angelo incumbent Rep. Drew Darby is being challenged by Lynette Lucas in this Republican primary race. Lucas sought to take the seat away from Darby back in 2018 but did not make it onto the ballot.
  • House District 76:
    This is an open seat that will be decided by the Democratic primary. Rep. Cesar Blanco (D) is not running for re-election, opting to run for a Texas Senate seat instead. The only two candidates who filed to run in this House race are Democrats Claudia Ordaz Perez and Elisa Tamayo. Ordaz Perez is a member of the El Paso City Council, while Tamayo learned the legislative ropes working for both Blanco and El Paso Sen. José Rodriguez.
  • House District 80:
    Incumbent Rep. Tracy King is being challenged by Danny Valdez. They’re both Democrats, and they’ve faced each before. In 2018, Valdez was unsuccessful in a similar challenge against King in this West Texas district.
  • House District 100:
    This is a crowded race, but all the candidates in this Dallas district hail from the Democratic party. The newly minted incumbent is Rep. Lorraine Birabil, sworn in just this month following a special election in January. To hold on to the seat in 2021, she’ll have to overcome opposition from James Armstrong, III (runner-up in the special election), Daniel Clayton, Sandra Crenshaw, Jasmine Crockett, and Paul Stafford.
  • House District 131:
    In Houston, incumbent Rep. Alma Allen faces two challengers from the Democratic Party: Carey Lashley and Elvonte Patton. Allen has held the seat since 2004, serving on the State Board of Education before that.
  • House District 141:
    The longest serving woman and longest serving African-American member of the Texas Legislature, Rep. Senfronia Thompson faces Willie Roaches Franklyn in the Democratic primary this year. Roaches Franklyn is a school counselor and administrator hoping to unseat the inimitable “Ms. T” in this Houston battle.
  • House District 147:
    Rep. Garnet Coleman, the incumbent for this Houston district since 1990, is facing two opponents in the primary. His Democratic Party challengers are Aurelia Wagner, a teacher, and Colin Ross, who runs a grease recycling business.

Additionally, there are several state legislative races in which no other candidate filed to run in 2020 against the incumbent. Thus, the current officeholder will retain the seat next year. These are the legislators who are already presumptive winners of another term starting in 2021:

  • Sen. Charles Perry, SD 28
  • Rep. Gary VanDeaver, HD 1
  • Rep. Jay Dean, HD 7
  • Rep. Kyle Kacal, HD 12
  • Rep. Ben Leman, HD 13
  • Rep. Will Metcalf, HD 16
  • Rep. Ernest Bailes, HD 18
  • Rep. James White, HD 19
  • Rep. Dade Phelan, HD 21
  • Rep. Oscar Longoria, HD 35
  • Rep. Mando Martinez, HD 39
  • Rep. Terry Canales, HD 40
  • Rep. Richard Raymond, HD 42
  • Rep. J.M. Lozano, HD 43
  • Rep. Sheryl Cole, HD 46
  • Rep. Mary Gonzalez, HD 75
  • Rep. Lina Ortega, HD 77
  • Rep. Art Fierro, HD 79
  • Rep. Brooks Landgraf, HD 81
  • Rep. Tom Craddick, HD 82
  • Rep. John Smithee, HD 86
  • Rep. Four Price, HD 87
  • Rep. Ken King, HD 88
  • Rep. Nicole Collier, HD 95
  • Rep. Charlie Geren, HD 99
  • Rep. Chris Turner, HD 101
  • Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, HD 104
  • Rep. Toni Rose, HD 110
  • Rep. Yvonne Davis, HD 111
  • Rep. Diego Bernal, HD 123
  • Rep. Ina Minjarez, HD 124
  • Rep. Armando Walle, HD 140
  • Rep. Ana Hernandez-Luna, HD 143

There are a handful of other races in which a single Republican or Democratic candidate faces opposition only from an independent or third-party candidate in November. In most of these cases, the major party candidate is the incumbent officeholder; Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston),  Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), and Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) are just a few examples. One notable exception is in SBOE District 8, where incumbent Barbara Cargill is not seeking re-election. The only candidates to file in the race to fill this open seat were Audrey Young, a Republican educator from Lufkin, and Libertarian candidate Bryan Leonard, for whom little campaign information can be found.

Now that we’ve shown you just how competitive and meaningful the Texas primary elections can be, we hope you’re ready to cast a vote in the Democratic or Republican primary election. In Part II of this blog series for Teach the Vote, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins will share more insight on why it’s so critical to be a primary voter in Texas, especially in 2020.

Early voting in the Texas primaries runs February 18-28. Primary election day, known as “Super Tuesday,” is March 3, 2020.

Election tips for educators: Know your rights and the rules

With the 2020 Texas primary election nearing, ATPE has been urging educators to be active and involved voters. We’ve shared resources on the ins and outs of voting, plus tools you can use to learn more about the candidates. Here on Teach the Vote, ATPE’s nonpartisan voter education website, we provide searchable profiles of every candidate vying for a seat in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year, aimed at helping you learn their views about public education. We’ve also asked you to remind your co-workers, friends, and family members about the importance of voting in every election, helping them to become informed voters, too.

The 2018 elections saw a surge in voter turnout within the Texas education community, which paid off the following year: The Legislature in 2019 approved billions of dollars of additional funding for our public schools and higher pay for many teachers through House Bill 3. While new laws passed in 2019 are still being implemented, there is already anxiety about the state’s ability to maintain funding for House Bill 3 into the future, along with other pressing issues such as school safety, healthcare affordability, and student testing. Strong educator turnout in the 2020 elections will be even more critical if we want to keep public education at the forefront of the next legislative session.

Unfortunately, at the same time we’re doing our best to get educators fired up about voting, there are some who would prefer that active and retired teachers stay home on election day. One of their attempts to dampen educator turnout has been through intimidation, issuing dire warnings about election laws and the criminal consequences for educators who may cross the line. How do we keep educators enthusiastic about voting and encouraging others to vote while still helping them understand what they can and cannot do under the law?

Election laws can be complicated, and in this rapidly evolving area of the law, new regulations may be subject to varying interpretations, at least until they become time-tested and vetted by court cases that may take decades to resolve. Collisions can easily occur at the intersection of the First Amendment and the various state laws, administrative rules, advisory opinions, and official policies on political activity. There will always be plenty of “grey area” for legal scholars to debate, but in the meantime, there is at least one simple rule of thumb that can help public school employees figure out what’s allowed and what’s not. If you are showing support for a specific candidate, political party, or measure that appears on the ballot (such as a local proposition for a new bond or a constitutional amendment), then you should take care to avoid using any resources of your school district while doing so.

Get Out The Vote (GOTV) initiatives have long been accepted as nonpartisan activities that do not cross the line into what’s considered “political advertising” or “electioneering.” Encouraging people to vote, regardless of how they might vote, benefits no particular candidate or political party. High voter turnout is simply good for our democracy.

The rules get trickier when it comes to partisan activities, such as asking people to vote for a specific candidate or to support one political party over another. There’s a big difference between urging someone to “go vote,” and urging them to “go vote for _________.”

As educators, you have a constitutional right to undertake partisan activities. You are well within your rights to share with other people your personal preferences in any given election and even to try to persuade them to vote the same way. You can give money to a candidate or PAC, walk the neighborhood handing out campaign materials, or wear the candidate’s t-shirt to show off your support. But when it comes to partisan election activities and communications, it’s important for public employees to restrict those to their own personal time and assets. It is unlawful for public school employees to use school district resources for electioneering or political advertising. That means, for instance, that you should not print out flyers for your favorite candidate on the printer in the teachers’ lounge, and you should not use your school email address to send out invitations to the candidate’s fundraiser. In other words, if taxpayers are footing the bill for it, consider it off-limits when it comes to your own personal preference toward someone or something that will appear on a ballot.

For more guidance on what is and is not allowable for public school employees, school district leaders, and school board trustees to do during election season, check out these additional resources made for educators:

Educators can and should be active participants in the electoral process, and you have an excellent opportunity to model good citizenship and political involvement for your students. Make sure you know your rights and the rules, and then get out and vote!

Early voting for the 2020 Texas primary election runs February 18-28. Primary election day is March 3, 2020.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 7, 2020

Check out what happened this week in education news from Texas and the nation’s capital, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Voting in the Texas primary elections will begin in less than two weeks. Early voting starts February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day, and ends February 28. Our state’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020.

This week on our blog, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter shared information about education-related recommendations in the ballot propositions being put to voters by the Texas Republican and Democratic Parties in this primary election. The ballot propositions help each political party fine-tune its platform based on views expressed by voters in the primary election on various issues. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins looked at some of the latest campaign fundraising news, takeaways from the Iowa caucuses earlier this week, and more in his election roundup blog post from yesterday.

With the primary elections inching closer, ATPE is focusing on helping educators find resources that will help them learn more about the candidates vying for their votes. Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education in 2020 by viewing their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include candidates’ responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, legislators’ voting records, campaign contact information, and additional information. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project and share information for their profiles that appear on Teach the Vote. Watch this new instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.

For additional resources to help you prepare for early voting, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com, or attend one of the “For the Future” education-themed candidate forums being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details on the events.


FEDERAL UPDATE: President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday, the third of his presidency. In the speech, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports for Teach the Vote, the president expressed his opposition to public schools and called on Congress to pass a school voucher bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The bill in question, S. 634, proposes to divert taxpayer dollars that may otherwise go to public education away from local schools and use those tax dollars to subsidize private and for-profit programs. The president cast public schools disparagingly as “failing government schools.” It’s worth noting the Texas Constitution guarantees a right to a free public education as being key to a healthy democratic society, and our state has a long history of independent school districts run by the communities they serve. ATPE’s Wiggins spoke to the Houston Chronicle and previewed the president’s remarks on Tuesday in this blog post.


Last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 included a Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) intended to provide additional funding to school districts that create an incentive pay system for teachers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that districts interested in creating a TIA program were asked to submit letters of intent to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by January 24 of this year. Anecdotal reports indicate that more than 700 of the state’s over 1,000 school districts have responded to date. TEA is implementing this initiative with a series of presentations to stakeholders around the state, and the agency is expected to publish rules in March 2020.

ATPE successfully lobbied the 86th Legislature to ensure that districts would not be required to use the STAAR test to measure teacher performance as part of a TIA program, but questions remain over the degree to which these programs may rely on student test scores. We will be paying close attention during the rulemaking process to see how these programs are allowed to be structured in order to qualify for the additional state funding. You can read more about TIA programs from TEA here.


Members of the ATPE Governmental Relations team gave a presentation on advocacy at this week’s Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Convention and Exposition in Austin. Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier spoke to attendees about the implementation of major bills passed in 2019, what’s at stake in the 2020 elections, and ways educators can get involved in advocacy efforts.

ATPE lobbyists Wiggins, Mitchell, Exter, and Chevalier at the TCEA Convention, Feb. 4, 2020

Special Texas House runoff election results for Jan. 28, 2020

Voters in three Texas House districts hit the polls on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, to elect their new state representatives. The special runoff elections in Ft. Bend County’s House District (HD) 28, HD 100 in Dallas, and Houston’s HD 148 were needed after those three state representatives resigned their seats late last year. No candidate earned enough votes in the original special elections on Nov. 5, 2019, to win any of these House seats outright. The winner in each of tonight’s runoffs will serve out the remainder of the current term of office, ending just prior to the start of the next regular legislative session in 2021.

Here’s a look at the results of the three special election runoffs held tonight:

HD 28 Runoff:

This was a race to fill the seat previously held by former Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), who resigned in 2019 to become executive vice chancellor for health affairs for the University of Texas System. As reported on the Texas Secretary of State’s website, a total of 30,074 votes were cast in this highly publicized runoff, representing an impressive 20% of the registered voters in that district. This figure exceeded turnout in the original November special election and is believed to be higher than any other Texas House special election taking place since at least 1992.

  • Gary Gates (R) earned 58.05% of the vote to win the race. He is a real estate investor from Rosenberg.
  • Eliz Markowitz (D), an educator from Katy, received 41.95% of the vote.

HD 100 Runoff:

This seat was previously held by former Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) who resigned last fall after being elected Mayor of Dallas. Per the Texas Secretary of State’s website, only 2,479 voters weighed in on this all-Democratic runoff.

  • Lorraine Birabil (D) was declared the winner with 66.28% of the vote. She is an attorney from Dallas with a background in public policy.
  • James Armstrong, III (D) received 33.72% of the vote. Armstrong leads an affordable housing organization in Dallas.

HD 148 Runoff:

This race was to fill the remainder of the term of former Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), who also resigned in 2019. The Texas Secretary of State’s website reported that 6,915 votes were cast in this special runoff election.

  • Anna Eastman (D) won with 65.47% of the vote. Eastman is a social worker who previously served on the Houston ISD board of trustees.
  • Luis LaRotta (R), a Navy veteran from Houston now working in the energy industry, earned 34.53% of the vote.

Barring a special session, it is unlikely that any of the winners of tonight’s runoff will have an opportunity to vote on legislation this year before their terms expire in Jan. 2021. However, all six of the candidates in the above runoffs are also vying for a full term in these same seats during the regular 2020 elections, meaning that their names will be on the ballot again in the Texas primary election that is only weeks away. The winners of tonight’s special election will now have the advantage of claiming incumbent status during the remainder of this 2020 election cycle. Be sure to check out their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote before the next elections on Super Tuesday in March 2020.

Learn about Texas House candidates in this month’s special election runoffs

On Jan. 28, 2020, voters in three Texas House districts have an opportunity to elect a new state representative. Early voting begins today for the Jan. 28 runoff elections for House Districts 28, 100, and 148. These runoffs follow a special election last Nov. 5, 2019, to fill those three vacant House seats. Registered voters in those three districts may vote in the runoff regardless of whether they participate in the original election back in November.

With the field now narrowed to two final candidates in each race, here’s a closer look at the three runoffs:

  • The HD 28 contest in Ft. Bend County is a high-profile race that ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote about last fall for our blog. The race has gained widespread attention with heavy-hitters from both parties, including several 2020 presidential candidates, traveling to Texas to stump for the candidates in this swing district. The runoff candidates are Gary Gates, a Republican real estate investor from Rosenberg, and Eliz Markowitz, a Democratic educator from Katy. In November, almost 20 percent of this district’s registered voters turned out to vote in the original election, in which Markowitz was the frontrunner but did not earn enough votes to avoid a runoff. The winner of this month’s race assumes the House seat previously held by former Rep. John Zerwas (R) for the remainder of this year.

 

  • In Dallas County’s HD 100, both of the runoff candidates are Democrats. The seat was previously held by former Rep. Eric Johnson (D) who resigned after being elected Mayor of Dallas. Runoff candidate James Armstrong, III leads an affordable housing organization. His opponent Lorraine Birabil is an attorney with a background in public policy. Birabil and Armstrong finished first and second in the November election, in which less than 8 percent of that district’s registered voters weighed in.

 

  • HD 148 is a Houston race to fill the remainder of the term of former Rep. Jessica Farrar (D).  Democrat Anna Eastman is a social worker who previously served on the Houston ISD board of trustees. Republican Luis LaRotta is a Navy veteran now working in the energy industry. Eastman earned 20% of the vote in November, followed by LaRotta with 16% of the vote. Slightly more than a quarter of the district’s registered voters turned out to vote in this race in November.

 

ATPE invited all of the above runoff candidates to take our candidate survey on education issues. As of this date, only one of the candidates has responded, but you can view all of their profiles using the links above on the candidates’ names. It is worth noting that all six of these runoff candidates are also on the regular ballot in 2020, seeking to win the same House seat for a full two-year term starting in Jan. 2021.

This Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, is the last opportunity for early voting before the runoff election day on Tuesday, Jan. 28. For more information about where and when to vote in these three districts, check with your local registrar of voters or visit VoteTexas.gov.